Economic recovery and pervasive computing to propel semiconductor manufacturing supply chain

Macroeconomic and microelectronic industry growth opportunities and innovation challenges underscored diverse perspectives from analysts, economists, technologists, semiconductor manufacturers and supply chain executives speaking at the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) that opened yesterday.  The executive conference offers the year’s first strategic outlook for the global microelectronics manufacturing industry and offered encouraging forecasts buttressed by the silicon requirements for the pervasive computing era.

Opening keynoter Rick Wallace, president and CEO of KLA-Tencor, invoked Robert Frost prose on the “The Road Not Taken” to illustrate competing industry views about growth. Wallace contrasted consolidation-driven industry mergers to what he characterized as more agile productivity-oriented innovation growth.  He rejected dual-source strategies as the optimal path for the industry and its supply chain and called for industry to make a more convincing appeal to young talent. In a provocative differentiation from competitors, Wallace questioned whether “too big to fail is also too big to innovate.”

Robert C. Fry, senior economist at Dupont, pointed to low but persistent global economic growth and highlighted positive data for global industrial production. He forecast global GDP growth of 3.1 percent in 2014 — up from 2.4 percent in 2013. Moreover, he commented on the increasing correlation between global GDP and semiconductor output, with high tech once again growing faster than the economy. Fry stated that global leading indexes are trending up, but not strongly or universally. Semiconductor shipments are finally setting new highs again and semi shipments have been trending up for more than a year.

Bill McClean, president of IC Insights, also pointed to better GDP growth trends, from 2.1 percent (2008-2012) to a forecast of 3.4 percent growth for 2014. Noting the trend toward mobility, he said that 2014 will be the first year that communications IC spending surpassed computing IC spending. He forecast 7 percent semiconductor market growth in 2014 to $350.7 billion and called for capital equipment spending of $62.3 billion, 9 percent higher than 2013 ($57.2 billion).

Bob Johnson, research VP at Gartner, stated that in the short term, growth will return to equipment markets in 2014 with annual growth between 16 and 21 percent. He expects quarterly weakness in the first half of 2014 after a strong fourth quarter in 2013. Longer term, he sees foundries battling IDMs for supremacy in mobility markets, technology shifts on the horizon with the advent of 3D NAND and EUV, and  450mm implementation beginning by end of 2017.  Also, Johnson said that by 2017, the dominant semiconductor revenue opportunity in the “Internet of Things” will shift from infrastructure to the “Things,”  and that the challenge will be in how to bring thousands of new products to market rapidly and cheaply.

Mark Thirsk, managing partner at Linx Consulting, discussed chemicals and materials needed for advanced semiconductor devices and forecast an improved outlook for 2014 with strong Q2 and Q3.  A high upside potential remains in specialty materials for semiconductors, but significant R&D requirements remain a barrier.  Materials demand grows faster than semiconductor unit growth due to process complexity — with Patterning, CVD and ALD, and CMP all driving materials demand growth. For the next 3-5 years, 3D packaging and TSV processing are key areas.

In the next SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium session, presenters spoke of both the challenges and opportunities inherent in Pervasive Computing. Nick Yu, senior VP at Qualcomm, discussed the unprecedented opportunity that the mobile era offers. Yu stated that what consumers want is a digital “6th sense,” basically the “augmentation of human ability.”  The smartphone experience is also becoming the expectation in other device categories.  Lama Nachman, principal engineer at Intel Labs, continued this thought with a presentation on “Context is Everything,” stating that Intel wants to fundamentally transform the relationship between humans and computers with “context” — for communication, introspection, meetings, health, and more.  She said that the platform implications of context include: “always-on” sensing and computing, low-power sensors and I/O, effective workload partitioning, and security and privacy.

Dale Ford, VP and chief analyst at IHS, stated that the semiconductor market growth continues its cyclicality, with September 2012 beginning a new cycle that will peak in the second half of 2014.  Ford said that capital expenditures declined by 9 percent in 2012 and an additional 3.7 percent in 2013, with Intel and Samsung transitioning existing capacity for use on next-generation technology. Pablo Temprano, senior director at Samsung Semiconductor, also stressed that a transformation is in progress. Discussing memory growth and investment in the mobile era, he said that Mobile is driving the Cloud (2013 Capex at $10 billion for just top 4: Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook). The total memory Capex Consensus forecast is $16 billion for 2014.

Finally, Rod Morgan, VP at Micron Technology, said that an increasingly connected lifestyle is driving memory requirements with mobile multi-functional devices, with embedded sensors and significantly greater memory consumption. Fast growing memory in a highly interconnected world demand is split across multiple sub-segments. The $16.4 billion mobile memory segment is a portion of the overall memory market (RAM $31.0 billion; Flash $26.6 billion). Citing the reliability, technology and security requirements of these embedded mobile device microelectronics, Morgan called for greater supply chain collaboration to enable the network infrastructure be successful. He said, “The pace at which we enable the infrastructure will determine the speed of innovation.”

Conference speakers on Day 2 and Day 3 of ISS will discuss how these and other mega-trends are enablers for future growth in Pervasive Computing.

The SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) examines global economic, technology, market, business and geo-political developments influencing the semiconductor processing industry along with their implications for your strategic business decisions. For more than 35 years, ISS has been the bellwether semiconductor conference for senior executives to acquire the latest trend data, technology highlights and industry perspective to support business decisions, customer strategies and the pursuit of greater profitability.  For information on SEMI, visit: www.semi.org.

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